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Teachers give CMS low marks in survey

During the school year, Jamie Dyer drives 30 minutes from her Charlotte home to her teaching job in Cabarrus County. She has no interest in working closer to home.

“Every single teacher who's working (at my school) wants to be there,” says Dyer, an English teacher at the new Hickory Ridge High in Harrisburg.

A newly released state survey of teacher working conditions suggests she's typical. Teachers in districts surrounding Charlotte tended to give their schools higher ratings than peers across North Carolina.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers, on the other hand, rated their schools below state averages on safety, trust, academic freedom and other key measures of satisfaction. They also were more likely to say they plan to leave their schools or the teaching profession in the next two years.

In a region where enrollment is booming, a good reputation can be crucial to school districts competing for teachers.

N.C. Gov. Mike Easley considers working conditions so important he polls the state's teachers every two years. The 2006 results prompted the state to create a new principal evaluation, which must be used starting in 2008-09. It requires principals to make plans for solving problems highlighted by their school's results on the teacher survey.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Peter Gorman said last week he hasn't yet studied the results from the teacher poll. But he and his top staff will do so at a leadership retreat in July.

More than 104,000 teachers, or 87 percent of the statewide work force, answered a long list of questions online in March and April. CMS's response rate was only 67 percent, which Gorman attributes partly to survey burnout. The district did its own annual teacher survey this spring, and held another poll on performance pay at about the same time.

“We survey more than any other district I've ever seen,” he said.

The good news: A majority of teachers across the state and the Charlotte region, including those in CMS, described their schools as safe places where colleagues trust and respect each other, and care about helping all students learn. Most said their principals are effective and supportive, and their schools have sufficient supplies and technology.

But satisfaction was often stronger in the districts surrounding Mecklenburg.

“Certainly there is a feeling that if you have a choice between Cabarrus and Mecklenburg, everybody wants to be in Cabarrus County,” said Susan Parker, an English teacher at Central Cabarrus High who has taught for 17 years.

“There's a lot of struggle going on in Charlotte, and probably because of the size you're more of a number there. I've heard teachers from Mecklenburg County say there's so much red tape.”

Some CMS teachers say that's improving, as the district moves from a centralized, tightly managed approach to one that allows successful teachers and principals more freedom.

Tracy Kennedy, a fifth-grade teacher at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, remembers when central-office administrators walked through schools with long checklists: “It was just ‘Fix this' or ‘Do this.'”

This year, she says, the new south regional office launched “learning walks,” where they scrapped the checklists and talked to faculty about their observations. “You weren't feeling like an ax was getting ready to fall,” said Kennedy, who has taught in CMS for 15 years.

Teachers in CMS and nearby districts say the state and federal governments make some of the rules that chafe teachers. But they also agree that principals can make a situation better or worse.

“A lot of that depends on the school and the administrators within the school,'' said Sandra Mullineaux, an Eastover Elementary teacher and 24-year veteran of CMS. “It does vary greatly, and the bigger we get the more variance we get.”

During the school year, Jamie Dyer drives 30 minutes from her Charlotte home to her teaching job in Cabarrus County. She has no interest in working closer to home.

“Every single teacher who's working (at my school) wants to be there,” says Dyer, an English teacher at the new Hickory Ridge High in Harrisburg.

A newly released state survey of teacher working conditions suggests she's typical. Teachers in districts surrounding Charlotte tended to give their schools higher ratings than peers across North Carolina.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers, on the other hand, rated their schools below state averages on safety, trust, academic freedom and other key measures of satisfaction. They also were more likely to say they plan to leave their schools or the teaching profession in the next two years.

In a region where enrollment is booming, a good reputation can be crucial to school districts competing for teachers.

N.C. Gov. Mike Easley considers working conditions so important he polls the state's teachers every two years. The 2006 results prompted the state to create a new principal evaluation, which must be used starting in 2008-09. It requires principals to make plans for solving problems highlighted by their school's results on the teacher survey.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Peter Gorman said last week he hasn't yet studied the results from the teacher poll. But he and his top staff will do so at a leadership retreat in July.

More than 104,000 teachers, or 87 percent of the statewide work force, answered a long list of questions online in March and April. CMS's response rate was only 67 percent, which Gorman attributes partly to survey burnout. The district did its own annual teacher survey this spring, and held another poll on performance pay at about the same time.

“We survey more than any other district I've ever seen,” he said.

The good news: A majority of teachers across the state and the Charlotte region, including those in CMS, described their schools as safe places where colleagues trust and respect each other, and care about helping all students learn. Most said their principals are effective and supportive, and their schools have sufficient supplies and technology.

But satisfaction was often stronger in the districts surrounding Mecklenburg.

“Certainly there is a feeling that if you have a choice between Cabarrus and Mecklenburg, everybody wants to be in Cabarrus County,” said Susan Parker, an English teacher at Central Cabarrus High who has taught for 17 years.

“There's a lot of struggle going on in Charlotte, and probably because of the size you're more of a number there. I've heard teachers from Mecklenburg County say there's so much red tape.”

Some CMS teachers say that's improving, as the district moves from a centralized, tightly managed approach to one that allows successful teachers and principals more freedom.

Tracy Kennedy, a fifth-grade teacher at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, remembers when central-office administrators walked through schools with long checklists: “It was just ‘Fix this' or ‘Do this.'”

This year, she says, the new south regional office launched “learning walks,” where they scrapped the checklists and talked to faculty about their observations. “You weren't feeling like an ax was getting ready to fall,” said Kennedy, who has taught in CMS for 15 years.

Teachers in CMS and nearby districts say the state and federal governments make some of the rules that chafe teachers. But they also agree that principals can make a situation better or worse.

“A lot of that depends on the school and the administrators within the school,'' said Sandra Mullineaux, an Eastover Elementary teacher and 24-year veteran of CMS. “It does vary greatly, and the bigger we get the more variance we get.”

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